A survey of Latino voters in California commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org) has found overwhelming majorities in favor of less severe penalties for many drug crimes. The polling firm of Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin & Associates surveyed a random sample of 600 Californians who had both voted in recent elections and identified themselves as Latino or Hispanic, and found majorities opposed to jailing marijuana, other drug users, or even first-time marijuana dealers. Some 85% opposed jail sentences for simple marijuana possession, 65% opposed jail for first-time marijuana sellers, and 58% opposed jail for hard drug possession. Under current California law, sale of even small amounts of marijuana can garner a prison term of up to four years.
When asked what was the appropriate punishment for marijuana possession, only 9% thought jail sentences were desirable, while 50% said a fine or community service and 25% urged drug treatment. One out of ten respondents said no punishment was necessary at all. Similarly, with first-time marijuana sales, only 10% thought sentences of more than a year were appropriate, while 40% said a fine or community service, 22% said treatment, and 3% said no punishment at all.
"The conventional wisdom has been that neighborhoods that were slammed by drugs and gangs supported tough sentencing laws," said DPA's Alberto Mendoza in a press release announcing the poll results. "But after a 30-year drug war that has failed families and communities, the tide of popular opinion has turned. Latinos now overwhelmingly support alternatives to incarceration."
"The drug war prison boom has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, but failed to prevent drug use or drug sales," added Glenn Backes, director of DPA's Sacramento office. "Felony convictions, handed out like candy, have destroyed the economic life of hundreds of thousands of California families and communities. Voters have lost patience with these cruel drug war policies and are calling for reform."
DPA was scheduled to present the poll results to members of the Latino Legislative Caucus Wednesday, when the group will also brief the caucus on alternatives to current sentencing policy. Visit http://actioncenter.drugpolicy.org/ctt.asp?u=1458&l=2481 to read the entire poll online.